The upcoming DLC and update to last years surprising hit Dark Souls raises some pertinent questions as to the PvP aspect it. Currently the starter areas are unplayable online as a result of “exploits” by unscrupulous players. But should we be surprised people don’t play to the spirit of games?
I love Dark Souls. I love it more now than I did in October.
It’s the sort of game that just grows on you. It’s an alien concept at first, brutal difficulty and repeated death and pain, but once you get past that, there is something charmingly satisfying about a game this challenging. That for each step forward you make, you feel like a god – an undead god, but a god nonetheless. To which the game very quickly puts you back in your place – you are an undead, the odds stacked against you every step of the way, persistence is the key and death is an inevitable – and frequent – visitor to your character.
The problem is, Dark Souls was sold partially on its online interaction. Being able to leave clues and messages to other players was charming, nice even. It let you feel there were others out there sharing your pain, your struggle against a higher purpose that was taking more than ample pleasure in your suffering. Over time, the messages died out, and something else replaced it.
Chickenhawks. Or to use the exact term, exploiters.
You see, I didn’t mind the random PvP invaders once upon a time. There were strict rules to it to ensure that match-ups were fair and balanced on level, and when someone had this super-duper armour wielding a ridiculously snazzy weapon, you knew instinctively they were playing a Low Level Run, where most don’t go above level 25 for the whole game. They had EARNED that armour, and similarly, you got a taste of the power of end-game gear. These were few and far between, but by god was I easily impressed back then. You just felt like wow, yes, there is some awesome stuff out there and yes, it IS possible to beat the game without leveling to 100 and having ridiculously high strength and endurance stats.
Unfortunately, of late that has gone very wrong. Thanks to some creative exploitation of the rules, and a bottomless box exploit that allows people to ferry high end gear to their other characters by way of a minor technical glitch, low level PvP has become the bane of the entire game. So much so, I recommend now that anyone playing it plays up to and including the Twin Gargoyles boss in Undead Parish in Offline Mode.
You see, there is nothing remotely fun in the realisation the only way people are able to kill you and invade you every ten minutes is by cheating. It takes the shine off things.
Now most argue that because it hasn’t been fixed (yet), that it is the fault of FROM Software and that they are merely creatively making use of exploits to have fun, and that everyone just has to man up and deal with it. However, my response is just because you CAN do something – it doesn’t mean you SHOULD do it. The spirit of the game is in co-operation and friendly rivalry, which can’t survive or thrive in an environment that has suddenly become the home of hundreds of cheap, cheating arseholes.
You might say it’s silly to complain and I should also cheat to survive in this hostile world. Except, I don’t WANT to cheat. I want to play the game as it was intended to be played. Which means most of my playtime today is spent in Offline Mode, because the online component has become so intolerable. Sure, I miss out on the sporadic messages and the genuine and quite enjoyable moments of PvP, but it is a small price to pay to actually sit down and tackle the game itself, rather than always tackling those abusing the system.
My stance on it is simple – if you need to cheat, you probably should not be playing the game.
But this isn’t limited to Dark Souls. I’ve played many, many online games over the years and I am constantly surprised and disgusted at the amount of people cheating in them.
For example – online fighters have become notorious for errors and glitches where one side can start fighting before the timer begins, effectively getting a head start on their memorised combo before the online match should really begin. These exploits render most online league tables for such games entirely moot, and for all the effort Namco, Capcom and Netherrealm Studios put into punishing those, the truth is that it is a losing battle for them. FPS are the same, I’ve seen some truly amazing glitches and bugs, one involved someone climbing into the skybox and sniping people. It’s bloody hard to see someone when most games offer glare when looking towards a bright light source like the sun, and this is traditionally where they try to get to – so that the glare effectively helps to obscure them a little. Also seen people shooting through walls and floors, as well as finding inventive clipping issues where they can crawl into a space and hide, or ambush others.
MMOs too are not immune, despite the regular patches to counter it. People exploit the rules or flagrantly disregard them to obtain items, loot and gear beyond their means. World of Warcraft, despite protestations from Blizzard, contains too many bots designed to farm things with no effort from the player. Champions Online and its open build nature means that players with a freeform build can effectively make a tank build that renders them invincible to players, whilst allowing no dip in their basic damage output. Everquest 2 was so exploited so often it’s hard to know where to begin.
The thing is, the basic excuse for allowing this to happen is the same; “We encourage all players to play within the spirit of the rules.”
That’s a lovely thought, but here comes the Penny Arcade G.I.F.T. (some strong language in it) to remind us that without strictly enforced rules, you can’t just ask someone to play nicely. If they feel they can keep getting away with it, they will keep doing it. The only way to stop them is to fix whatever exploit they are using, or effectively ban them from playing online.
Words are so often not enough, and it’s important that we understand and make a distinction here. Cheating in or exploiting an offline game is your time being wasted. Creatively using mechanics in an offline game is not exploiting (as I learned, oddly, in Dark Souls) but if it feels like an exploit or a cheat, it probably is. You are the fool if you feel a need to cheat a game you have paid for. But it harms no-one else. It is a victimless crime, save your own pocket and enjoyment.
Cheating online is a very different kettle of fish however, as it DOES impact on other players. And a good half of these players might actually want to play it by the book, by the rules and rely on skill and experience to win. When the other half are looking for the cheapest, easiest method of winning and getting their reward as fast as possible with the minimum of effort, you create a hostile playing field where there can be no winners. The people who suffer are newcomers, or those who assume that others will similarly play within the rules. Cheating in an online games does have victims. And that’s why it is indefensible for the most part – regardless of whether you can or can’t do it, that someone else has to suffer for you to raise your virtual e-peen by a fraction of a millimetre is entirely immoral and cannot be justified by any excuses at all, ever.
The Artorius DLC for Dark Souls offers at least a glimmer of hope, in a new open PvP area. In an ideal world, this will draw the exploiters away… for a while. But unless glitches and exploits are patched up regularly, it will be a week or two before things end up back as they were and new players who join in will find it inaccessible for the first five or six hours, as they get repeatedly shafted by those shifting much better gear to much lower level characters, or those simply finding ways of getting their level 64 character into the world of someone at level 15 for what? One free humanity? At that level, farming humanity from the rats in the depths is faster, easier and actually generates more souls over time, and for PvP, it’s just proving you have no talent to exploit loopholes to avoid a fair fight. Doing this only serves to denote that you, as an invader, are a massive douche of a human being who probably needs a good smack across the side of the head with a large plank of 2×4. If not several smacks.
I have NO sympathy for cheaters. I’m sorry, I don’t. But equally, I find it laughable that games studios still feel like they don’t need to address some of these issues because they feel that they can encourage players to play within the spirit of the rules and game. But in a society that is in some moral decline, where anonymity encourages and indeed breeds behaviour that we would find disgusting in our day to day lives and where it is easy to just Google a game and find all its weak points and exploits as people tell others how to do it, this is a lame duck of an argument. The real reason is because it costs money to patch games with such alarming regularity; Microsoft and Sony are known for charging a premium for patch space and on the PC, users find more exploits and breaks the moment another has been fixed. It’s not cost-effective to keep patching up these issues.
But it renders online games such a pain, and so often deeply unpleasant, when you see someone strutting around like a peacock with wood in gear that character very likely didn’t earn by fair means. It encourages others to cheat, it breeds envy which breeds more inspiration to cheat – it just effectively makes others want to cheat to be just like them. Eventually though, all the game will have is people like them. People who don’t really want to put the effort into learning, who just want to feel superior with the minimum of effort and skill. And when you have a room full of these peacocks, all with similar woodies and similar feathers, you know there’s going to be an almighty fight in the end. Although in this case, slapping hands feebly at each other in the air.
That’s a sad indictment of the state of online gaming. But it is something that we really should be addressing. As games become more and more prevalent, and more and more games try to force in online and multiplayer elements, so too does the base of people who may feel tempted to cheat. And so too does the number of people who may be turned off an otherwise perfectly decent game because the online community acts so poorly.
In the end, cheaters are only cheating themselves. Eventually, they’ll cheat themselves out of a userbase to exploit. And that spells the end of a games online mode. And they’ll only have themselves to blame at the end of the day, because they had every opportunity to hold back. Companies will have had ample time to fix those issues too. It isn’t just the cheaters at fault – some people naturally want everything handed to them for a $60 investment. They paid their money. Now they want to win – whatever the cost. Companies need to ensure this doesn’t happen, that players earn their keep and play fairly at all times.
But it is usually the decent, honest players who are made to suffer most of the time. And that, in my book, is a crime that is unforgivable.